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Preparing for Discharge

Leaving the support of the NICU can feel overwhelming. Doubts and fears about your ability to care for your baby at home recede as time passes. You can do many things to prepare for bringing your baby home.

Your baby may be getting ready to go home when:
  • He no longer needs an incubator to keep himself warm—he’s sleeping in a crib.
  • He can breast- or bottle-feed.
  • He is gaining weight steadily (1/2 to 1 ounce a day).
  • He is breathing on his own.
  • He weighs about 4 pounds.
No matter how much you may have wanted the day to come, leaving the support of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) staff and equipment can feel overwhelming. Rest assured that any doubts or fears about your ability to care for your baby at home recede as time passes. As your baby grows stronger, you will feel more calm and confident.

Preparing for the Big Day
  • Prepare and clean your home for your baby's arrival. Protecting your baby from dust, fumes, fresh paint odors and smoke is essential to your baby's health.
  • Get a car seat. Car Seat Safety has more information. The American Academy of Pediatrics also provides tips for selecting a safe car seat for your infant.
  • Obtain a portable crib or bassinette, diapers, a thermometer, blankets of varying thickness and clothing for the baby's arrival.
  • If breastfeeding, you should have a breast pump and supplies for storing breastmilk (or 1 to 2 weeks of formula).
  • Stock up on groceries for everyone else in the home.
  • Arrange follow-up and pediatric care for your baby with a pediatrician. Try to find a pediatrician who is accustomed to caring for children with your baby's medical history. Premature infants or infants with specific conditions may be followed in specialized clinics as well as by their regular pediatrician. Obtain a copy of your baby's medical history, so that you can take it to all your baby's appointments.
  • Ask staff if it is possible for you to stay overnight in the NICU to care for your baby before discharge. Many hospitals have a special room for this purpose where parents can take care of their baby as they would at home. The presence of nurses and doctors outside the room is comforting to families preparing for this transition.
  • If your baby is being discharged with any type of equipment, make sure you know how to use it. Some equipment can differ slightly from what you are accustomed to in the NICU, but a staff person or representative from the equipment company should teach you how to use it. Make certain you understand how the equipment will be delivered to your home and who to call if there are any difficulties.
  • Take an infant CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) course. Some hospitals or NICUs provide this to families free of charge. Staff can also refer you to courses in your area. Infant CPR will teach you how to respond to certain situations, such as a baby choking.
  • NICU staff might have referred your baby to an early intervention program, a free service for babies from 0 to 3 years, who are at risk for developmental delays. Staff may ask you to make an appointment for this service or to complete some paperwork.
  • If you anticipate needing help at home taking care of your baby, begin arranging for help well before discharge. Friends, family, babysitters and nannies often need advance notice.
  • Ask staff for telephone numbers of graduate parent support groups or organizations that may assist you after your baby goes home.
  • Ideally you addressed financial concerns regarding your baby’s hospitalization during your baby’s stay, but if you were too busy, consider speaking with the social worker about how to deal with any bills that could begin to accumulate.
Leaving the NICU
  Step-Down Care
  Preparing for Discharge
  The Big Day
  After the NICU
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